Lars Eller’s 2014-15 performance was full of ups and downs, just like his previous campaigns. Will 2015-16 be a repeat of that or is the Danish centre poised to take a big step forward this coming season?
The only real thing that Eller was consistent at last year was being inconsistent. There were nights where he dominated play, even if it didn’t necessarily result in goals being scored. There were others where the only way you’d know he even suited up was by checking the box score at the end of the night.
Most would agree that offensively, Eller has disappointed to some degree and last season was no exception. There were some reasons for that, however. Here are Eller’s most common lines from last season:
Prust – Eller – Sekac (244:29 TOI)
de la Rose – Eller – Smith-Pelly (112:10)
Eller – Plekanec – Galchenyuk (50:38)
Bourque – Eller – Sekac (46:13)
de la Rose – Eller – Weise (45:31)
With the exception of that third grouping, all of Eller’s linemates were inconsistent and often offensively-challenged players. It’s hard to be a reliable producer when you’re playing with wingers whose best attributes shine outside the offensive zone. Not surprisingly, most of these trios sparsely played with the man advantage, resulting in Eller seeing very little PP time (0:28) which also helps contribute to a lower-than-expectations stat line.
Eller’s big contract came as a result of his strong 2013-14 postseason play. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to duplicate that performance in the most recent playoffs where he once again was hit or miss on a near-nightly basis leaving much to be desired and debated heading into the summer.
Season Stats: 77 GP, 15 goals, 12 assists, 27 points, -6 rating, 42 PIMS, 1 PPG, 0 SHG, 7 GWG, 150 shots, 15:29 TOI
(Because of the lockout-shortened season, we are pro-rating all of 2012-13’s numbers over a typical 82-game year. And considering Eller’s career high in points came in the lockout campaign, his numbers (such as a pro-rated 51 points) impact the average more than most.)
Regardless of what happens with the ‘will he, won’t he’ question regarding Alex Galchenyuk at centre, it seems likely that Eller will once again be slotted as the third line centre heading into camp. Michel Therrien trusts him in a two-way/shutdown role and while that bodes well for the team – Eller is a well above average 3rd liner – it doesn’t provide much enthusiasm in terms of hoping for a boost in his production. Unfortunately for Eller, the third and fourth line wingers seem to be largely interchangeable once again (Smith-Pelly, Kassian, Weise, and de la Rose are all likely to be moved back and forth), so the concern about quality linemates may very well exist again.
There is, however, one other reasonable option that could see him slide up the depth chart from time to time. Should an injury occur inside the top six, Eller is a strong option to move up. For the first time in a while, there are quality defensive options behind him that would give Therrien the freedom to pull Eller from his usual role. Torrey Mitchell has shown in the past that he can play a third line role while the coaching staff really seems to trust Jacob de la Rose to the point where they tried him at centre briefly last year. If he progresses as hoped, he would be a second viable checking centre alternative as the season progresses.
To start though, expect him on the third line in a role very similar to last season.
The past couple of years, I’ve thought that perhaps the next season would be the one where Eller takes that next step. I’m not falling into that trap again. I don’t see him receiving any big boost in power play time as newcomers Semin and Kassian probably slot ahead of him as winger options with the man advantage and the projected rotation of bottom six wingers this coming season is only slightly better than last years’ group. Those elements don’t scream ‘breakout season’ to me.
From a fantasy perspective, Eller is someone who probably will go higher than he should as almost everyone’s looking for a sleeper pick come the middle rounds. In smaller leagues, you’re probably best off passing him up altogether but in deeper ones, he’s worth a look as an end of the roster or flex option. But I’d add another player similar to him quickly to hedge against the inevitable lengthy slump.
Excepting the lockout year, he has been rather consistent in his production over the last few years with 28, 26, and 27 points despite his on again, off again tendencies. If you’re like me and see him largely on the third line in 2015-16, expect him to be pretty close to those numbers at the end of the season.